The old man slumbered in the shadows under the cliff. Tourists meandered by, occasionally noticing his gently snoring form; some smiled, others appeared discomfited. He was surrounded by paintings: beautiful landscapes, lithe women, still lifes. Every now and then he snored himself awake for a moment, glanced around with bleary eyes and resettled himself on his chair. He would drift off again, head dipping forward, hat threatening to fall off its perch.
Two friends, Catarina and Serafine, laughing loudly as they wandered the maze-like paths, came around the corner and saw the street artist. They hushed, not wanting to disturb him, and crept closer to gaze upon his paintings. Some were mediocre—most of the nudes were clichéd and overdone—but others were fascinating in their depth. A tiny cottage perched under a menacing mountain, shadows looming over the sunlit house; a verdant forest with strange faces formed in the patterns of the branches; a sunset that seemed to be at world’s end. The young women shivered, glancing up at the cliff that hung moodily over the man, ready to swallow him when no one was looking.
The brown-haired one crouched before the sunset and read the signature. “Eugene Hutch,” she said aloud. The sign said ‘Small paintings €15, large €20.’ “I think I want to buy this one.” She looked up at her friend.
“It’s a bit depressing Catarina. It doesn’t look like a happy sunset, does it?”
“No. That’s why I like it.” Catarina looked at the sleeping Eugene, thinking that, with his tweed coat and cap he could have been sleeping there for decades. “Like Rip van Winkle,” she murmured. Getting to her feet she fished out her purse and drew out the money.
“Are you going to wake him up?”
“I guess.” Catarina sounded as hesitant as she felt. She hovered in the sunlight at the edge of the shadows, hoping he’d wake. Serafine made an impatient noise behind her.
“I think I’ll go look in that puppet shop back there. I might be able to find something for Madeline.”
“Sure, go ahead. I won’t be long. Sorry.”
Serafine flicked her straight black hair and vanished back around the corner. Catarina picked up the sunset painting and stared at the cliff again. Shadows seemed to cavort like little gargoyles. As she approached Eugene, stepping from the light into the shade, bizarre shapes flickered around him, dimly seen at the edge of her vision. She gathered her courage and cleared her throat.
“Uh, Eugene?” He snorted and she repeated herself, a little louder. Blinking heavy eyes he gazed up at her. “Sorry to disturb you, I just wanted to buy this painting.” She held it up.
He rubbed his eyes and stood up, the stiffness of his bones apparent. “Yes, yes, thank you miss. Just nodded off for a moment.” His voice was heavily accented and hoarse but she understood him well enough. She offered him the money and he took it with a gnarled hand, mumbling his thanks again. Uncertain, she stepped back and clutched the painting to her chest, whispering a goodbye as he sank back into his chair. He waved and smiled at her, and within moments was submerging into dreams. The shapes flickered back into life, gathering around him, dancing with reckless abandon as he dreamed.
Catarina moved back into the sunlight, feeling the warmth penetrate her chilled muscles. She looked back at the snoring artist, nestled in the gloom, and saw with clarity. The cliff curled around him protectively, not menacingly. The capering creatures were born of his mind, the attendants of his imagination. She looked down at the painting in her arms and smiled, before retracing her steps to find Serafine.
I wanted to capture one of the tiny moments of magic you find when you are on holidays somewhere new. That thrill when you discover something so different from everyday life that you embellish your perceptions and, in memories, you wonder if there really was an element of magic that your mundane mind refused to see in the moment. A tiny pocket of beauty, not really worth retelling to friends and family that lives on in your heart forever.